How coffee won the West | ParkRecord.com

Back to: News

How coffee won the West

When the Pioneers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took the Overland Trail from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City, they packed a lot of coffee for the trek.

"I’ve got manifests of what the Brigham Young Pioneer Company took on the trail and some of the parties set out with hundreds of pounds of coffee," said Utah Historian Will Bagley. "The Word of Wisdom was a different thing back then."

Bagley will give a presentation called "Coffee on the Trail" in connection with the "Coffee: The World in Your Cup" exhibit at the Park City Museum, 528 Main St., on June 16.

The historian, author of such books as "Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows," "So Rugged and Mountainous: Blazing the Trails to Oregon and California" and most recently "The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War," said his presentation will touch on topics such as the Boston Tea Party and where coffee came from in America in the 1840s, but will focus on coffee and the Overland Trail.

"I’ve got a range of quotes about how dependent overland travelers were about getting up and getting that first cup of coffee in the morning," Bagley said with a laugh. "Those of us who are addicted to the brown juice understand that quite well."

The presentation will also examine the role American Indians played in moving coffee throughout their communities.

"The Indians would impose a toll whenever they could on the trail as the pioneers passed through the lands," Bagley said. "Oftentimes immigrants would give them coffee, which they liked quite a bit, or sugar which they liked even more."

A majority of sources for Bagley’s presentation are culled from quotes that are in journals, he said.

"Scholars have about 3,000 journals that have been used as primary sources for history and more than half are available on the Mormon Church’s Pioneer Company website (lds.org/churchhistory/library/pioneercompanysearch/)," he said. "They have almost 3,500 digitized, full-text newspaper articles and journals, which is extraordinary. It’s astonishing how eloquent and descriptive these accounts are."

Still, Mormon Pioneers weren’t the only travelers who used the Overland Trail.

"The trail includes the Oregon, California and Mormon Trail," Bagley said. "You have the gold seekers, the Oregon dreamers and the Mormon Pioneers and I’ve got a whole bunch of quotes where people will say, ‘If you’re going to Oregon or California, coffee is more important than food.’"

Bagley collected most of his coffee resources while he was conducting some research for his new book "So Rugged and Mountainous."

"After completing ‘Blood of the Prophets’ in 2000, I thought I accomplished everything I wanted to do in my life, because I felt I had written a book that would outlast me," he said. "After it printed, I thought, ‘What’s next?’"

In May 2000, close to Bagley’s 50th birthday, the author was contacted by the National Park Service to create a historic resource study of the Oregon/California Trails. The first volume covers 1812 when fur trader Robert Stuart blazed the Oregon Trail from the Columbia River to the Platte River in Missouri to when gold is discovered in California, he said. The second volume runs from 1848 to 1852 and the last two volumes are about the 1850s and the 1860s to 1912, Bagley explained.

"I began working on that and am still working on it," he said with a laugh.

Historian Will Bagley will present "Coffee on the Trail," at the Park City Museum, 528 Main St., on Thursday, June 16, at 6 p.m. The event is free with museum admission which is $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and military and $5 for children ages seven through 17. Admission is free for museum members. For more information, visit http://www.parkcityhistory.org/events or call (435) 649-7457.